graffiti, Yakutsk, May 2011
The first order of business in this post is to note the retirement of my other blog; I suppose it could be assumed since nothing has appeared on it in nearly a year that it had faded away, but I am making this more purposeful. I thought about posting on it more when I returned to Scotland in January, re-titling it 'back among the heather' or something like that, but decided not to, for a few reasons.
flooding on the meadow, Yakutsk, May 2011
One of the most difficult things about doing fieldwork for me was feeling like I was never fully present there; I felt divided between home and Yakutsk mentally and emotionally, and perhaps on a mental level, connected to Aberdeen as well as it was where my supervisors were located. Having a separate blog for travelling, for being in places 'not my home' serves to accentuate that kind of divide I feel, and creates unnatural divisions. Here in Aberdeen now I feel profoundly scattered all over the earth, my heart tugging homeward as always, but as I write my dissertation I also feel a deepening of my connections with people and their places in the Sakha Republic, and great nostalgia and wistfulness and longing and all manner of things like that, because--as difficult and uncomfortable as things could get there--I miss it deeply.
climbing the hill at Tabaga at ice-break time, May 2011
So everything is on this blog now, because conceptually I want to be where I am now. I don't want to 'other' my experiences elsewhere, because they are a part of me as much as my 'home' experiences, even if I understand them differently. I'm not settling anywhere anytime soon, as such is the nature of my work and research. And as much as I have urges to nest (I really enjoy fantasizing about decorating a house where I might live for more than a year at a time, and amassing heavier objects, like nice cooking pots, that I won't need to worry about shipping) I need to remind myself that it won't be happening for awhile. So I will be wherever I am, in this rather mobile life I am currently living.
the first crocuses, Tabaga, May 2011
A few notes on words in here: a sayylyk is the place where many Sakha people still spend the summer, usually in an alaas located a little ways from the winter village. An alaas is a clearing in the taiga where a lake once was, now filled with grasses and vegetation for grazing animals. Abaahy are evil demons, sometimes made of stone and iron, like the trees in the Lower World. The khoton is the traditional style of cow barn, a low hut attached to the winter house. Granny (Emeekhsin) Taal-Taal is a character in Sakha stories -- this refers to the one where she falls and her dress freezes to the ice, and she asks various beings who is the strongest and will help her up. Ohuokhai is the Sakha circle dance meant to mimic the movement of the sun, and features improvised call-response singing.
* * *
city of dust (draft)
this is not a city, some say, just
a scattering haphazard: the river’s
constant exhale of flotsam,
the washing of the tide—
grandmother lena tosses soviet building-blocks
like square skipping stones from dress pockets,
half-collapsed houses overturning like the hulls
of old cossack ships.
i was born in the sayylyk, says the old woman,
when they were haying. i arrived
with a rattling lark-call, they fed
the spirits of every blade of grass.
it’s the seventh month, and soon
the hoarfrost will hang off the inside-out
buildings, from their piping exo-skeletons
like the fangs of abaahy.
amongst the wheezing breaths
of the bull of winter the cars sputter,
moan like small calves lost in fog, calling
for their mothers, deep in the khoton.
but here i worry here, she says,
if were to slip on the ice,
like granny taal-taal
would the earth even hear my cries?
it’s the blue season, the black season,
the bruised season of the middle world,
the sun a holy mirage, a pale face
peering down the ice-box hole.
then the break-up, a heaving sigh
after a seven-month silence brings
lakes dissolving, and our dear dog-citizens
howl the country into spring.
o poor city! poor toothless baby, came to us already
departed, never left the tree. they ask,
how can we live like this? leave a basket of birchbark,
i’m leaving for the alaas.
the ice floats, the ghosts of abandoned campsites rustle,
polluting the buildings unfinished, the altars of rubble.
we feel the ground panting, trying to shake off pavement,
shed this smothering fur coat.
it’s season of roadlessness, now and the earth
tries to roll us up: send us north with the souls
and melting ice-floes, but yet she persists, this
belligerent city, this tough-grown granny who says
i’ve got a mouth full of gilded teeth
that glint like chapel domes in the cavities
and a voice like the swallows whistling
high round the telephone wires!
just beyond the graveyard, the television station
lifts its antennae like larches to heaven
and on spring nights the village students,
coatless and laughing
blossom into the lengthening light.
in my courtyard they dance ohuokhai
with remembered footsteps, pressing
their pulse through the concrete. they
circle, pull apart, link arms, embrace
and become the movement of the sun
flashing between buildings, white-night chill
and the dust of summer.
here, now, there is still the earth
listening beneath them, singing yes
we dwell in this place.